On 4 May 1983, a Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-200 flying from Hong Kong, featuring the old green and white striped livery, affectionately known as the ‘lettuce leaf sandwich’, touched down at Auckland Airport.
It marked the airline’s inaugural flight to New Zealand, or at least the inaugural commercial flight: on 19 October 1946, shortly after Cathay was founded, the airline flew one charter between Hong Kong and Auckland to return the crew of the steamship Maori on the airline’s Douglas DC-3, Betsy. The launch of the route in 1983 made Auckland the 27th destination in Cathay Pacific’s growing network, an expansion driven by the purchase of its long-range 747s in 1979.
While Cathay Pacific had been running a sales office in New Zealand since 1974, it wasn’t until November 1982 that the airline found a way to fly to the Pacific nation. The solution was a tripartite agreement operating on rotation between Cathay Pacific, Papua New Guinea flag carrier Air Niugini and Air New Zealand.
Air New Zealand operated the weekly flight for six months, with Cathay Pacific operating the next period, followed by Air Niugini. The flight had a brief stopover in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, but passengers remained onboard as the modest airport’s transit lounge couldn’t accommodate all the passengers from a jumbo jet.
Fast forward to today. Cathay Pacific operates two daily flights from Hong Kong to Auckland during the southern hemisphere’s summer season (December-February). In October 2016, the airline became the first international airline to fly the A350 to New Zealand, when CX197 from Hong Kong landed in Auckland.
Last month, the A350 link to New Zealand expanded with the launch of direct flights to Christchurch, on New Zealand’s South Island. The seasonal, three-times-weekly, non-stop service capitalises on the growing demand for visitors to the South Island – a hotspot for outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking, biking (and skiing in the winter).
‘The time is right with the arrival of the A350 to launch the service to Christchurch during our peak summer season,’ says Mark Pirihi, Cathay Pacific’s country manager, New Zealand and Pacific Islands. ‘Demand for travel to New Zealand is high, and Christchurch is the international gateway to the South Island and all it has to offer, from scenery to adventure to fine food and wine.’